More than 50% of Australians living with back pain develop mental health issues after having chronic pain, according to a leading orthopaedic surgeon from the Western Australian Institute for Medical Research.

Professor Melloh, quoted at theconversation.com, stated that it was plausible that the stress of severe back pain had influenced the mind, and that this had led to depression and other mental illnesses.

Professor Melloh also went on to suggest that “people with mental health issues might be more sensitive to pain, and have a lower pain threshold”.

So where’s the link?
The side-effects of both chronic back pain and depression are similar: they include sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, lack of energy and decreased physical activity, all of which exacerbate each other.

And according to webmd.com, the overlap between depression and chronic pain comes from shared neurotransmitters, brain chemicals that act as messengers travelling between nerves. Depression and chronic pain also share some of the same nerve pathways.

Research studying those with both chronic back pain and depression reports more intense pain, less control and more unhealthy coping strategies.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports that Australians living with back pain are 2.5 times more likely to experience depression and 1.8 times more likely to report anxiety.

But according to spine-health.com, depression is the most common emotion associated with chronic back pain, but the main concern with treating the depression is diagnosis. Back pain symptoms are often at the forefront of any visit to the doctor, so depression takes a back seat.

How to treat depression and chronic back pain together
Once diagnosed, there are ways to treat both chronic back pain and depression simultaneously.

Some antidepressants are used to treat both pain and depression, to reduce the perception of pain.

And depending on your level of health, and advice from your practitioner, it is thought that exercise is a great way to not only increase your back and core strength, but also help to ease depression by releasing the same brain chemicals that antidepressant medications release.

You might also be interested in Beyond medicine: Treating pain outside the doctor’s office

Cognitive Therapy is also an approach that works for many, as research indicates that mental pain can help to improve chronic pain. Cognitive therapy can teach a person how to change these thought patterns and improve the experience of pain. This is also a proven treatment for depression.

If you think that you’re suffering from depression, please contact your doctor, or seek additional information from www.beyondblue.org.au

Additional resources:

http://theconversation.com/mental-illness-more-common-in-those-with-back-problems-8538
http://healthsciences.curtin.edu.au/news_back_pain_mental_health.cfm
http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/depression-chronic-pain